The challenge ahead for California Republicans
A decade ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned California Republicans that “we’re dying at the box office,” and that we must change to stay relevant. While many criticized and disregarded his message, including me, history has proven him correct.
Change is difficult, especially for political organizations. Parties attract, and are made up of, like-minded people with shared values and vision. They tend to be insular and shun thinking different from their own. As a result, efforts to change them are often painful. We see this playing out in both major parties, here and across the nation.
For California Republicans, change is not an option — it is an imperative.
Republican registration today is below 26 percent statewide, and falling. In 39 Assembly districts — almost half the state — Republican registration is below that of No Party Preference. We are not relevant in presidential or U.S. Senate elections, and haven’t won a statewide office in more than a decade. Republicans no longer have the luxury of time, inflexible ideology or intraparty squabbles.
Republicans must recognize the importance of being data-driven, broadening our message, and being more inclusive. Most importantly, we must listen to all Californians, not just the shrinking subset of one party. For a minority party, politics is about addition.
Ronald Reagan said it best: “I do not view the new revitalized Republican Party as one based on a principle of exclusion. After all, you do not get to be a majority party by searching for groups you won’t associate or work with.”
California Republicans must overcome the fear of doing something different. We must reach into communities in which we are not present today, listen to different perspectives, and adapt our core principles to a changing state. In short, we must define what it means to be a Republican in California today. We cannot be timid or afraid.
Republicans have a choice: We can remain in a state of denial and continue to lose elections, influence and relevance, or we can move forward boldly to articulate and apply our principles in a way that resonates with a changing California. To me, the choice is clear.
As Assembly Republican leader, I have built genuine relationships with groups that we have ignored for decades, championed policies that reach out to nontraditional Republican groups, and communicated more broadly than any Republican leader in the last generation.
Many of my Assembly Republican colleagues have engaged in issues that are not often associated with us, such as providing for the developmentally disabled, fighting poverty, and addressing climate change through market-based solutions. Moreover, my colleagues and I will continue fighting for an open economy that provides freedom and economic opportunity to everyone equally. To be a viable alternative, Republicans have to provide a vision that resonates with the majority of Californians.
Going forward, Republicans simply can’t wait another decade to do things differently. We must step out of our comfort zones. We must listen closely to the state’s diverse voices. We must acknowledge and embrace our state’s uniqueness. And we must offer bold policy proposals that improve California and the lives of its residents. This is the challenge before us.
Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes represents the 42nd Assembly District.
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